It seems not a day goes by in the clinic when I haven’t espoused the benefits of incorporating fermented foods into my patients’ diet.  Given my outspoken passion for home fermenting, I sometimes wonder if my patients think I might bubble and explode from all the probiotic rich foods and beverages I consume on a daily basis.  Although I may convince many of the benefits of consuming such foods, getting them to take on a culinary venture can sometimes seem daunting.

Enter the hero of this tale – water kefir.  Kefir grains are small clumpy collections of beneficial bacteria and yeast living in symbiosis.  They have been used for hundreds of years in the middle east, primarily being used to ferment fresh milk into a effervescent probiotic rich drink, like yogurt only thinner and a little more tangy.

Kefir grains are versatile and can be used in different liquid mediums in combination with a carbohydrate source which they metabolize, producing a host of nutrients and beneficial compounds that we then consume.  Milk based kefir is delicious but requires a little more kitchen time then our hero water kefir.  In addition, using water as the brewing medium takes dairy completely out of the picture which is key for those who have a sensitivity to dairy products.

You can obtain water kefir grains in one of two ways.  You find someone who has a large and ever growing supply (they multiply rapidly given the right conditions) or you can buy the grains mail-order.  We started with a dried and packaged product from Culture for Health.  After rehydrating the crystal like grains following their instructions you simply place them in a glass jar with lukewarm sugar water.  The proportions are approximately one cup of sugar to every gallon of water.  You can make as much or as little as you like.  From there, wait a day or so and taste it.  It should be bubbly, slightly sweet, a little nutty; a complex flavor that is hard to describe.  You then strain off the liquid and start a new batch with the separated grains.  In this way, you can keep a jar on your counter and have a steady supply of water kefir on the ready for when a craving for something carbonated hits you.  If your interest is piqued, here’s a video detailing the preparation of water kefir from the Cultures for Health.

I have two goals in sharing this information.  The first and most important is access to a highly beneficial source of probiotics that is ridiculously easy to make and will cost you pennies on the dollar compared to probiotic supplements.  Although the supplements have their place, and are essential in certain clinical conditions, we should strive to repopulate our gut with happy bugs, daily, through our diet like our ancestors did.  Recognizing that some families lack the time or willingness to experiment in the kitchen, water kefir represents the ultimate in do-it-yourself, easy-squeezy, no-frills means to get probiotics into your system.

The second reason is providing a means for a classic bait-and-switch to replace highly processed, high fructose corn syrup laden carbonated beverages.  Soda, both regular and diet, are about the worst things you can consume.  They provide no nutritional benefit and dubious psychological benefit once the sugar crash hits and the caffeine wears off. 

Holistic healthcare practitioners have come to honor the fact that humans crave bubbly substances, knowing full well that this desire stems from our instinctual nature to seek out fermented foods and drink.  Soda pop is the worst of the worst manipulation of this ancient craving, providing a ton of empty calories with no probiotics to accompany all that fizz.  It is a dead, food-like substance.

So if a healthcare practitioner or nagging family member has pleaded with you to quit your soda habit, you owe it to your health to give water kefir a try.  When you satisfy your bubbly craving while providing nutrients and probiotics to your formerly starving body, you find a happy place of deep nourishment that can’t be put in a can and stocked at your local supermarket.  Give it a try and post your experiences below.  Thanks for drinking and thanks for reading.

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